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Announcement of Burmese Election?

Simon Roughneen, February 4, 2010

Myanmar junta leader General Than Shwe pauses after offering white jasmine flowers at the Sri Maha Bodhi temple premises in Anuradhapura on Nov. 14. (Photo: Ishara S. Kodikara/ AFP-Getty Images)

According to sources in the Burmese military, junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe will announce the election timetable and law by the end of February.

The sources, who cannot be named due to the sensitivity of the information discussed, say that the army is recruiting candidates from outside its own ranks to compete in military-backed parties during the election, targeting businesspeople and community figures such as teachers in townships and villages across the country.

Prominent candidates are likely to include leaders of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), a "civil society organization" supported by the junta. The USDA has an estimated membership of 20 million people, many of whom have been forcibly recruited.

Recently, Japan's Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported that the elections will run in October, but this cannot be confirmed yet. Burma watchers speculate that the junta will hold the polls on October 10—the 10th day of the 10th month of the 10th year—because it is thought to be auspicious for senior regime figures, who are said to be firm believers in numerology.

An announcement by Than Shwe at the end of February would give parties some time to organize in advance of an October election, if that rumored date turns out to be true. However, some analysts have speculated that the election date and electoral law promulgation would be done at short notice prior to the actual polling date, to give the junta party vehicles a head start over the rest of the field.

Giving his Independence Day address on January 4, Than Shwe stated that the election would take place sometime in 2010—and in a "systematic way"—before he went on to tell the Burmese people to make what he termed the right choice.

"Plans are under way to hold elections in a systematic way this year. In that regard, the entire people have to make correct choices," he said.

The extent of the choice available to the Burmese people has yet to be confirmed, however. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is barred from competing due to her marriage to a British academic.

Her presence on the campaign trail could galvanize her party and Burmese voters. However, she remains under house arrest and it seems unlikely that she will be released prior to the election, despite calls from the United States, United Nations and Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Recently, junta Home Affairs Minister Maj-Gen Maung Oo told local officials in Kyaukpadaung Township that Suu Kyi will be released in November of this year.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) has not said if it will compete in the election. The current NLD position is based on Shwegondaing Declaration, which calls for reviewing and amending the 2008 Constitution, releasing all political prisoners, recognizing the 1990 election results and calls on the junta to talk to the opposition.

The United States has called for a national dialogue involving the regime, the NLD and other opposition parties, and ethnic minority groups before the election takes place, but has not urged the junta to review the Constitution, which will facilitate continued military rule.

Others have called for the junta to allow Suu Kyi and senior NLD officials to meet to discuss the election and party policy. However, none of this has happened yet.

This article was originally published in The Irrawaddy: http://www.irrawaddy.org/.

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